Liberal Californian Conor Friedersdorf takes the occasion of Barack Obama’s totally unexpected reelection to throw a spitball of a column at conservatives, wondering aloud: What Has Movement Conservatism Accomplished in the Last 15 Years?
Perhaps we’ll see future triumphs from the conservative movement despite its present troubles. But have we seen any evidence of success since 1997 or so? George W. Bush created a new bureaucracy, expanded the federal role in education, approved a massive new entitlement, exploded the deficit, abandoned any pretense of a “humble foreign policy” that eschewed nation building, and left office having approved a massive government bailout of the financial sector. Then President Obama took office, presided over more bailouts and growing deficits, passed a health care reform bill that conservatives hate, and got reelected. Over this same period, the country has gotten more socially liberal. Gays can serve openly in the military and marry.
A majority now supports legalizing marijuana.
Circa 1997, if you’d told the average conservative that all those things would happen in the next 15 years, would they have declared the conservative movement finished? I suspect as much.
In the first place, noting George W. Bush’s sometimes failure to govern as a conservative (more government agencies, another entitlement, bailouts) is a fundamentally dishonest argument.
The Conservative Movement has never pretended to enjoy a national majority, nor does it claim to possess unchallenged dominion over the Republican Party. In the election of 2000, as in the elections of 2008 and 2012, the Conservative Movement contended against, and wound up compromising with, the professional politicians and Republican pragmatists. That is how American politics operates. The Conservative Movement had a lot of influence and, by an interesting kind of non-coincidence, was in every presidential election from 2000 to 2012 conceded the second place on the ticket, but it did not name the nominee.
Electing George W. Bush was certainly no unalloyed triumph for Conservatism. George W. Bush ran on a commitment to compromise with liberals and democrats and promised to govern as a “compassionate” (i.e. moderate Welfare State) Republican. There was never any reason to believe that George W. Bush was a sophisticated opponent of statism.
The Bush Presidency was radically transformed in the directions of domestic statism and foreign military operations by 9/11, which event, by any fair reading, must be looked upon as a legacy of Clintonian left-wing policy passivity.
Conservatives like myself are far from uncritical of Bush’s Wilsonianism. Some of us actively deplore the creation of the Department of Heimat Sekuritat and would abolish it and the TSA in a New York minute if we could work our will. We nonetheless wound up forced to defend George W. Bush, his Administration, and his foreign policy from essentially treasonous, dishonest, and opportunistic attack by the democrat party left. One wound up feeling like a Union conscript in the Civil War obliged to defend the leadership of General George McClellan.
We, in the Conservative Movement, can at least congratulate ourselves that our movement was able to elect George W. Bush, who was, however wrong and limited, nonetheless an honest and a decent man, over the despicable charlatan and junk science demigod Albert Gore and that we were able to spare the United States the dishonor of seeing the Vietnam War traitor John Kerry promoted to commander-in-chief.
8 years of George W. Bush, alas! failed, due to determined democrat resistance, to reform the American welfare state and put Social Security on a sound and reliable footing. Bush also failed to fully foresee and avert the real estate crisis, whose roots lay as far back as the New Deal. He did try to reform Fannie Mae, but Barney Frank and Chris Dodd successfully stood, like Horatius at the Bridge, in the way.
Bush, at least, did overthrow one of the principal outlaw regimes and sponsors of international terrorism, and he successfully averted al Qaida’s intended Second Wave attack. He built up the US military, put terrorism on the run, and delivered to Barry Soetero an ongoing intelligence operation and information obtained from captured illegal combatants which made possible his administration’s greatest triumph, the killing of Osama bin Laden.
In the same period, Conservatism’s intellectual domination of legal debates continued, and we won a decisive landmark Supreme Court decision affirming the Second Amendment and essentially recalling a cornerstone provision of the Bill of Rights from exile. We also won another crucial Supreme Court decision reversing liberal efforts to control political campaign speech. Not bad.
Mr. Fiedersdorf is a very young man lacking adequate experience of life to enable him to take the long view.
It’s easy to derogate the influence and achievements of the Conservative Movement a little over a week after it experienced a disastrous defeat. One can imagine the Friedersdorf column assessing US Naval Strength published on December 16, 1941.
It is sad, and not yet even entirely understandable yet why, that we lost this one, but frankly, Conor, old boy, I think you have a lot more to fear from the political future than we do. You put the radical Obama back into power, while the economy continues to sink, Obamacare increasingly comes into actual force and applies its terrible negative effects, and the federal budget approaches a fiscal cliff created deliberately by your party. You bozos own the disastrous US economy, and the chances that your demented ideology, your corrupt politics, and your basic bovine stupidity will do it still greater harm asymptotically approach 100%.
You are, I will grant you freely, the professionals at political manipulation, voter turnout, agitprop, and spin. You got all the weak-minded females in suburbia across the country in a tizzy over their supposed rights and they voted for Caliban out of fear that Romney would somehow personally confiscate their contraceptives and slap around their hairdressers.
What you overlook are the key considerations that your economics are fallacious, your policies are inevitably disastrous, your president is a narcissistic incompetent, and you are still, in the long-run, losing the war of ideas. Let me offer you a reciprocal challenge. Write this same column again nine days after the election of 2016, and let’s see how it reads then.
Hale County in west central Alabama and Bamberg County in southern South Carolina are 450 miles apart. Both counties have a population of 16,000 of which around 60% are African American. The median households and per capita incomes are well below their respective state’s median, in Hale nearly $10,000 less. Both were named after confederate officers–Stephen Fowler Hale and Francis Marion Bamberg. And although Hale’s county seat is the self-proclaimed Catfish Capitol, pulling catfish out of the Edisto River in Bamberg County is a favorite past time. These two counties share another unique feature. Amidst a blanket of Republican red both Hale and Bamberg voted primarily Democratic in the 2000, 2004, and again in the 2008 presidential elections. Indeed, Hale and Bamberg belong to a belt of counties cutting through the deep south–Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina–that have voted over 50% Democratic in recent presidential elections. Why? A 100 million year old coastline.
During the Cretaceous, 139-65 million years ago, shallow seas covered much of the southern United States. These tropical waters were productive–giving rise to tiny marine plankton with carbonate skeletons which overtime accumulated into massive chalk formations. The chalk, both alkaline and porous, lead to fertile and well-drained soils in a band, mirroring that ancient coastline and stretching across the now much drier South. This arc of rich and dark soils in Alabama has long been known as the Black Belt. But many, including Booker T. Washington, coopted the term to refer to the entire Southern band. Washington wrote in his 1901 autobiography, Up from Slavery, “The term was first used to designate a part of the country which was distinguished by the color of the soil. The part of the country possessing this thick, dark, and naturally rich soil…”
Cretaceous rock units (139-65 million years old) are shown in shades of green. Older rock units are in gray, younger ones in yellow. From Geology and Election 2000.
Over time this rich soil produced an amazingly productive agricultural region, especially for cotton. In 1859 alone a harvest of over 4,000 cotton bales was not uncommon within the belt. And yet, just tens of miles north or south this harvest was rare. Of course this level of cotton production required extensive labor.
As Washington notes further in his autobiography, “The part of the country possessing this thick, dark, and naturally rich soil was, of course, the part of the South where the slaves were most profitable, and consequently they were taken there in the largest numbers. Later and especially since the war, the term seems to be used wholly in a political sense—that is, to designate the counties where the black people outnumber the white.”
Readers can compare 2012 results using individual state maps at Politico.
Bret Stephens, in today’s Wall Street Journal, notes that the famous 3 a.m. telephone call scenario that appeared in the most famous ad of the 2008 presidential campaign actually recently occurred.
The hour is 5 p.m., Sept. 11, Washington time, and the scene is an Oval Office meeting among President Obama, the secretary of defense, the national security adviser and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi has been under assault for roughly 90 minutes. Some 30 U.S. citizens are at mortal risk. The whereabouts of Ambassador Stevens are unknown.
What is uppermost on the minds of the president and his advisers? The safety of Americans, no doubt. So what are they prepared to do about it? Here is The Wall Street Journal’s account of the meeting:
“There was no serious consideration at that hour of intervention with military force, officials said. Doing so without Libya’s permission could represent a violation of sovereignty and inflame the situation, they said. Instead, the State Department reached out to the Libyan government to get reinforcements to the scene.”
So it did. Yet the attack was far from over. After leaving the principal U.S. compound, the Americans retreated to a second, supposedly secret facility, which soon came under deadly mortar fire. Time to call in the troops?
“Some officials said the U.S. could also have sent aircraft to the scene as a ‘show of force’ to scare off the attackers,” the Journal reported, noting that there’s a U.S. air base just 450 miles away in Sicily. “State Department officials dismissed the suggestions as unrealistic. ‘They would not have gotten there in two hours, four hours or six hours.’”
The U.S. security detail only left Washington at 8 a.m. on Sept. 12, more than 10 hours after the attacks began. A commercial jet liner can fly from D.C. to Benghazi in about the same time. ...
The U.S. ignores warnings of a parlous security situation in Benghazi. Nothing happens because nobody is really paying attention, especially in an election year, and because Libya is supposed to be a foreign-policy success. When something does happen, the administration’s concerns for the safety of Americans are subordinated to considerations of Libyan “sovereignty” and the need for “permission.” After the attack the administration blames a video, perhaps because it would be politically inconvenient to note that al Qaeda is far from defeated, and that we are no more popular under Mr. Obama than we were under George W. Bush. Denouncing the video also appeals to the administration’s reflexive habits of blaming America first. Once that story falls apart, it’s time to blame the intel munchkins and move on.
It was five in the afternoon when Mr. Obama took his 3 a.m. call. He still flubbed it.
Back at the end of October in 2008, Peggy Noonan hurriedly jumped on the express train to the Finland Station, endorsing Barack Obama in quite warm terms, and dismissing regrets or apologies by pointing to the mandate of heaven.
[L]et’s be frank. Something new is happening in America. It is the imminent arrival of a new liberal moment. History happens, it makes its turns, you hold on for dear life. Life moves.
Peggy is still holding on to history’s roller-coaster car for dear life but, happily, the turns of the track have brought Peggy (along with David Brooks and the rest of the establishment commentariat) back to the right side. This week, Peggy Noonan, rather than praising Barack Obama, was delivering the ultimate editorial coup de grace.
On Wednesday, President Obama gave a news conference to share his thoughts. Viewers would have found it disappointing if there had been any viewers. The president is speaking, in effect, to an empty room. From my notes five minutes in: “This wet blanket, this occupier of the least interesting corner of the faculty lounge, this joy-free zone, this inert gas.” By the end I was certain he will never produce a successful stimulus because he is a human depression.
Actually I thought the worst thing you can say about a president: He won’t even make a good former president.
His detachment is so great, it is even from himself. As he spoke, he seemed to be narrating from a remove. It was like hearing the audiobook of Volume I of his presidential memoirs. “Obama was frustrated. He honestly didn’t understand what the country was doing. It was as if they had compulsive hand-washing disorder. In ‘08 they washed off Bush. Now they’re washing off Obama. There he is, swirling down the drain! It’s all too dramatic, too polar. The morning after the election it occurred to him: maybe he should take strong action. Maybe he should fire America! They did well in 2008, but since then they’ve been slipping. They weren’t giving him the followership he needed. But that wouldn’t work, they’d only complain. He had to keep his cool. His aides kept telling him, ‘Show humility.’ But they never told him what humility looked like. What was he supposed to do, burst into tears and say hit me? Not knowing how to feel humility or therefore show humility he decided to announce humility: He found the election ‘humbling,’ he said.”
Willem-Adolphe Bouguereau, Liberal Democrat Pursued By the Furies, 1862, Chrysler Museum of Art
Rich Lowery explains how the democrat minority lucked into control of both electoral branches of government and then proceeded to self destruct.
The frustrations of minority status can drive a political party batty.
The temptation is to substitute belligerence for thought, insist on a self-destructive purity, lash out at the American public and question the wisdom and viability of the country’s institutions. Indulging in these tendencies almost always makes a party’s position worse rather than better.
The Obama Democrats may be the first party to engage in this self-defeating behavior—borne of a frustrated desperation—while holding the presidency and both houses of Congress by substantial margins.
Through an accident of timing (a national election coinciding with a financial crisis) and the exhaustion of the Bush-DeLay Republicans (who lost power almost by default), liberals took the commanding heights of the federal government while remaining a minority disposition in our national life. In short, they became a rump majority.
Through President Obama’s alchemy, these temporarily enlarged congressional numbers were supposed to be transformed into a permanent realignment. It hasn’t worked out, obviously.
In the last 20 months, Democrats have had the power to do almost everything they want, except command the allegiance of the public. That has made them and their allies feel embattled, isolated and perpetually aggrieved. They act like a forlorn minority at the same time they control every lever of elective power in Washington.
The ultimate source of the Democrats’ discontent is quite simple: They’ve lost independents. In 1994, in taking Congress, Republicans won independents by 14 percentage points. In 2006, in taking it back, Democrats won independents by 18 points. In the latest Gallup survey, Republicans lead among independents by 11 points. ...
The pollster.com average of Obama’s approval rating among independents is a dismal 37.9 percent. This meltdown should have launched a thousand agonized liberal op-eds, conferences and strategy papers on how to win back the center. If, that is, liberalism had any realistic sense of its limits.
In the midst of a catastrophic loss of the middle, Obama’s supporters exhort him to get more angry, insistent and ambitiously liberal. Having already pushed for a bridge too far, they want to go farther still. When they can’t, they conclude it’s a damning indictment of Obama’s failure of nerve and the nation’s ungovernablility.
There’s little acknowledgment that the country is in a different place than they are. To the extent there is, so much worse for the country, which is condemned for its backwardness and intolerance. The majority is not just wrong on immigration enforcement and the Ground Zero mosque, it’s contemptible. Who knew that the American public would get accused of bigotry more often after electing an African-American president than before?
As former Bush speechwriter Peter Wehner writes, liberals “are expressing deepening alienation from our nation and turning on the American people with a vengeance.” They thought they had a mandate from heaven in 2008 and can’t bear the thought that they deluded themselves. They’ve gone from triumphalism to a petulant and uncomprehending tantrum in less than two years. The rump majority looks more exhausted by the day.
[I]ndependent voters… in 2008 voted like Democrats and in 2010 voted like Republicans.
Is it a backlash? It seems cooler than that, a considered and considerable rejection that appears to be signaling a conservative resurgence based on issues and policies, most obviously opposition to increased government spending, fear of higher taxes, and rejection of the idea that expansion of government can or will solve our economic challenges.
The Financial Times looks at the Obama Presidency and concludes: There will probably be no health care bill. Obama has nothing to talk about in the State of the Union speech he recently postponed. This will not be a transformational presidency, and the White House needs to change direction and heads need to roll, or he’ll be in worse trouble next month.
“Chemical Ali” sentenced to death again. They’re going to have to hang that guy several times.
——————————————————— James Cameron endorses ecoterrorism.
Martha Coakley losing in Massachusetts Senate race. Democrats blame George W. Bush.
Aurochs images from Chauvet cave.
Italians scientists propose breeding living cattle backwards to a genetic match with the extinct aurochs. Heck cattle descended from Herman Goering’s similar program are available, but they are intending to use Highland cattle and the Italian Maremma.
——————————————————— Frank Fleming, at PJM, reveals more Game Changing moments from 2008:
Barack Obama’s rumored drug use was a lot more recent than most people think, but he vowed to never do it again after he woke up one morning with Joe Biden as a running mate.
The Washington Times reports that Eric Holder’s Justice Department is again roadblocking federal efforts to investigate incidents of voter intimidation in Philadelphia during the 2008 presidential election by Black Panthers costumed as security guards and brandishing billy clubs.
The systematic efforts by the Obama Administration to protect their own partisans from prosecution are outrageous and have every possibility of developing into a serious scandal capable of inflicting major harm on a presidency already in serious trouble.
The Justice Department has told the federal attorneys who filed a civil complaint against the New Black Panther Party for disrupting a Philadelphia polling place last year not to cooperate with an investigation of the incident by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
The commission last week subpoenaed at least two Justice Department lawyers and sought documents from the department to explain why the complaint was dismissed just as a federal judge was about to punish the New Black Panther Party and three of its members for intimidating voters.